Western, students working with community to respond to riot

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 18, 2013 

In the aftermath of the Oct. 12 riot in Laurel Park, many people both on Western Washington University's campus and in the community have asked how this could have happened and what can be done to make sure it doesn't happen again.

As shocked as we were by this incident - because it is so very out of character for the community we know and love - we have been heartened by the overwhelming response from our students, condemning this behavior and standing up to say it does not represent them. Western students, faculty, staff, alumni and many other supporters - now over 3,000 - have signed an online petition deploring the violence near campus and reaffirming their support for Western's true values.

This ugly incident is entirely contrary to Western's values of civil discourse, nonviolence and making a positive difference in our community - values that are lived every day by the vast majority of our students. Groups, including student leaders, university administrators, police and concerned neighbors, have been meeting over the past week to get ideas on how to proceed.

Here are just a few of the ways Western is responding:

Numerous Western students were out in the early morning hours the day after the riot picking up litter and debris in the Laurel Park area.

Western is continuing to work closely with Bellingham Police as they investigate the riot. That includes providing extra university police for the ramped-up party patrols over the next few weekends.

Western students involved in lawless and destructive behavior on Oct. 12 face both criminal charges from city police and sanctions via Western's conduct process.

In the hours and days following the incident, Western students sent doughnuts, flowers and more than 200 cards, notes and letters to the Bellingham Police Department.

Students provided a card-signing opportunity on Red Square Thursday and collected more than 1,000 signatures. The cards are being sent to each of the law enforcement agencies that responded to the riot: the Bellingham Police Department, the Whatcom County Sheriff, WWU Police and the Washington State Patrol.

Western students are organizing fund-raising activities to help address damages made in the community from the events of Oct. 12.

Student leaders from across campus have joined together to coordinate efforts to get Western students out in the community to help on Oct. 26, national Make a Difference Day.

Associated Students, Western's student government, called a special meeting Oct. 14, and passed a resolution condemning the events of Oct. 12.

Associated Students' leadership attended the Bellingham City Council meeting on Oct. 14 and apologized for criminal and destructive actions of Western students at the riot.

Western Prevention and Wellness will continue its proactive efforts to prevent alcohol and substance abuse and to encourage healthy lifestyle choices by students.

The Campus Community Coalition, a partnership of Western, other local colleges, neighborhood associations, landlords, local bars and law enforcement, met with a Western vice president and student leaders to discuss the role the coalition can play in dealing with alcohol and substance abuse.

Associated Students leaders and a Western vice president engaged in an open and frank dialogue with members of the Mayor's Neighborhood Advisory Council on Wednesday night.

Students and other Western leaders will be attending the Sehome Neighborhood Community Forum Monday night, Oct. 21.

Those are just a few of many possible activities; we are interested in hearing other ways students and Western can make a positive difference in the community.

As we look ahead, how can we prevent another violent incident like that which occurred on Oct. 12? At Western, in addition to the actions listed above, we must strongly reinforce Western's values, and our longstanding and powerful tradition of making a difference in the community. Washington Monthly recently ranked Western 10th nationally for its service to the community and region. And on Tuesday, Oct. 22, more than 900 fifth graders will be touring Western's campus as part of our Compass 2 Campus program, a proactive effort that sends hundreds of trained WWU student mentors into local schools in order to get more kids to see themselves as high school graduates and future college students. Over the past four years, Western student mentors have provided nearly 99,000 hours of mentoring service to local students.

Service to our community: that really is what our students care about. It is what our campus believes in.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Bruce Shepard is the president of Western Washington University, Carly Roberts is president of Western's Associated Students.

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